Fervent prayer, our greatest challenge
In his book Prayer: The Cry for the Kingdom, the late Stanley J. Grenz points out that though the pursuit of justice and fervent evangelism are crucial, these are not the church’s most pressing challenges. “Rather, the greatest challenge facing the church of Jesus Christ today, and therefore every local congregation, is motivating the people of God to engage in sincere, honest, fervent prayer.”
What does it take to move us to pray? I don’t mean “pray for your food” prayer, or “pray to open or close a meeting” prayer, or even “prayer request list” prayer. I mean “from the deepest parts of our hearts, in recognition of our complete dependence on the power and presence of the Holy Spirit” prayer.
The book of Nehemiah is heralded as one the greatest leadership books ever written. The prophet Nehemiah exercises spiritual and practical leadership skills for the glory of God, and for restoration of both the city of Jerusalem and the identity of the people of God. Most importantly, he sets the tone for great leadership, as we read about his reaction in chapter one to the chaotic state in which the people of Jerusalem find themselves.
The people were in great trouble. Their physical safety was threatened, because without walls they couldn’t protect themselves. Their economic situation was difficult. They felt disgraced (1:3), the laughingstock of the surrounding people.
How did Nehemiah, the white-collar government worker with a secure job, react to the news?
“When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days, I mourned and fasted and prayed to the God of heaven” (1:4).
Is there any situation that could make you weep, mourn, and fast for days? Nehemiah took this situation so seriously that he not only wept and prayed for a few days, it seems that he prayed for four months (1:1, 2:1).
This man persisted in prayer. He “owned” the problems of Jerusalem and repeatedly went to God for guidance in dealing with the problems of his people.
What makes you weep? What breaks your heart? What brings you to your knees? Do you weep for spiritually lost Canadians who don’t know Jesus? Do you pray for Canadians whose lives are “broken down” like the walls of Jerusalem? Jesus challenges his disciples: “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest” (John 4:35).
Ripe for the harvest
In Canada, we live in a highly polarized religious situation. According to Lethbridge sociologist Reginald Bibby, about 3 in 10 Canadians continue to value faith while some 4 in 10 do not. The remaining 3 in 10 constitute something of an “ambivalent middle.” By 2031, those in Canada who identify as Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and Sikh are projected to almost double, making up 14% of the population, while Protestants are expected to shrink to 21% (from 28% in 2006). Those with no religious affiliation will grow from 17% to 21% of the Canadian population.
This redistribution of religion in Canada has major implications. The presence of significant numbers of people who are ambivalent but receptive to faith, and the influx of other religions is both a great opportunity and a call to prayer. The mission field is coming to us.
Nehemiah’s actions are an example of how we need to orient ourselves in prayer for our country. Nehemiah approaches God in prayer by first recognizing the supremacy of God and his covenant love. Nehemiah then confesses not only the sins of the rebellious Israelites, but also his own sins; he owns the sins and problems of the people. Nehemiah reminds God of his promises to Israel, and finally, petitions God with his request.
Taking our cues from Nehemiah, we need to become preoccupied with God and his glory, purposes, and promises. With a renewed sense of God’s glory, we are driven to our knees in repentance. Where our agenda has displaced God’s agenda, we need to repent. Where we are pigeonholing others, writing them off, criticizing, persisting in fierce independence rather than working together, we need to seek forgiveness and realign our hearts, minds, and actions with God. We need to pray for and pursue unity that testifies Jesus is at work. We need to pray for boldness in the face of opposition to the good news.
In all our prayers, we need to remember that we can’t “make it happen.” We pray, the Spirit leads, we follow, lives are transformed, and Jesus is glorified. The fulfillment of the vision God has given us to see Canada transformed by the good news of Jesus Christ begins on our knees. We need to join together in prayer for all Canadians who do not yet live in relationship with Jesus. Please join me in praying for God to move across our land. Pray for the Spirit of God to renew our hearts with a passion for Jesus, with unity in mission and courage in witness for Christ.